Wednesday

25th May 2022

Juncker debate prompts scrap between pro- and anti-EU MEPs

  • Juncker in Strasbourg on Monday (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

In a debate meant to be on confidence in the European Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker, eurosceptic MEPs traded insults with colleagues from pro-EU groups as much as with the former Luxembourg PM.

The motion of censure, requested by 76 of the European Parliament's 751 members, was discussed in Monday’s (24 November) plenary session in Strasbourg for just under an hour.

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Juncker questioned the motives behind the initiative, which was put forward by the UK Independence Party (Ukip), the Italian Five Star Movement, and France's Front National.

They called it on grounds the commission chief had led the Grand Duchy at a time when its tax authorities let large corporations off the hook, as recently revealed in a series of articles dubbed “Luxembourg Leaks”.

Front National leader Marine Le Pen said that “French citizens will be pleased to hear that thanks to Mr Juncker, they had to pay more tax”.

Steven Woolfe, from Ukip, called the leaks “an ugly scandal that will not go away”.

But Juncker said he is “not a friend of big capital” and repeated promises to propose new rules on greater transparency on so-called tax rulings or comfort letters.

He said he would step down if a majority of the parliament asked him to.

“Let's leave the other commissioners out of it … If you want me to go, say it and I will go”.

He spoke after the two biggest groups, the conservative EPP and the centre-left Socialists, which hold a majority, had announced they wouldn't vote against him.

German deputy Manfred Weber gave Juncker “full support” on behalf of the EPP, while the Italian Socialist leader, Gianni Pittella, warned that forcing the commission out of office would be bad for Europe’s economic recovery.

He noted that “months would pass by” with no leadership in Brussels, damaging confidence in Europe, in concerns ridiculed by Le Pen as an "apocalyptic vision" which lacked only "the invasion of locusts and raining frogs".

For his part, Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt dismissed the “stupid motion” as “a little game”.

He quoted Ukip founder Alan Sked, who recently told the New York Times that his party has “grown into this hideous, racist, populist, xenophobic, Islamophobic thing”.

Verhofstadt’s intervention met with noisy booing from Ukip members.

But he also attacked the Front National, noting that it recently borrowed money from a bank with ties to the Kremlin, prompting Le Pen to raise her arms in indignation.

The moderately eurosceptic ECR group was the only one out of the parliament’s mainstream factions which remained undecided on the vote.

Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko said his group is less interested in the "intention" behind the motion, and more in what he called "the Juncker problem".

“The shadow of the scandal will follow you”, he said.

Legutko told Juncker he felt “somewhat uneasy about the European Commission investigating the case with you at the helm”, citing the Latin phrase “nemo iudex in causa sua” which means nobody should act as judge in their own case.

Juncker closed the debate by pledging that his “commission will work flat out to combat” tax evasion: “Please don't doubt my words”.

He also told MEPs to “stop insulting me”.

“I may be thick-skinned … but I would rather get on with my job”, he said.

The commission president had brought his entire team to the plenary chamber and addressed MEPs with his Dutch vice-president, Frans Timmermans, sitting next to him.

After the discussion, several commissioners left the room quickly.

But Juncker lingered to show off his team’s support.

He received a handshake from Sloavkia’s Maros Sefcovic, hugs from Estonian commissioner Andrus Ansip and Cyprus’ Christos Stylianides, as well as kisses from Slovenia’s Violeta Bulc.

On his way out, Juncker also patted Spanish commissioner Miguel Arias Canete on the back of his head, in a playful sign of certainty that the vote, to be held on Thursday, will go his way.

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